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what has been observed may show, at least, how little we are to regard the observation of those, who tell us, that the culprit's penitence is the whole object of civil punishment; or, at least, that if this object were obtained, all necessity for punishment would cease.
As we know not, how far into the universe, the effects of human apostacy may extend, nor how weighty may be its influence, where it is felt, our reason is by no means sufficient to determine, what measures were necessary on the part of God, to counteract this influence, and to render it consistent with wisdom and goodness to forgive the offender. Yet some reasons, why atonement was necessary, may be easily discerned.
It must be an object of real importance to the universe, that the character of God should be made known. That this has a near connexion with the virtue and happiness of his intelligent offspring, cannot be doubted. The character of a parent, Governor or King, is known to have great effect on the morals and happiness of those, whom they respectively govern. As the moral character of the Supreme Being is perfect, he must contemplate virtue with approbation, and vice with displeasure. It is just as impossible, that he should not hate the latter, as that he should not love the former. He, who is indifferent to vice, is as certainly indifferent to virtue. For Deity not to make known, in some way, his displeasure at vice, would leave his creatures in as much suspense, as to his character, as his forbearance to exhibit his complacency in virtue. If Deity, as a perfect Being, necessarily contemplates sin with aversion and abhorrence, it is both fit in itself, and necessary to the good of his empire, that this aversion should be made known. It is fit, because those feelings, which are suitable to be entertained, are suitable to be made known. It is incongruous, that external deportment should not correspond with the judgment of the mind, and the emotions of the heart. It is dishonorable to God, to doubt, that his administration, viewed extensively, is an expression of his character. It is neces
sary to the good of Gods' universal empire, that his displeasure at sin should be made known, because happiness cannot prevail in the universe, without regularity and virtue; but in order to this, it must be seen, that the virtuous and vicious are not equally esteemed. It must be seen, which of the contending interests is patronized by the Deity. The law indeed speaks terror to the guilty; its language, therefore, perfectly corresponds with the divine purity: but if it be seen by all beings in the universe, many of whom perhaps are now in a state of trial, and many of whom will, at every given period, be in a state of trial, that sin is not punished; but that while the law of God expresses one thing, or speaks in a particular language, his proceedings speak a language either the reverse of this, or else materially different from it, there must, so far, as we can see, be the appearance of inconsistency in him, who rules the universe. That expression, with regard to good and evil, which was made by the law, is no longer apparent. "Though words are insignificant," says a respectable writer of our own," actions are more so. It is a common and just observation, that actions speak louder than words: yea, a maxim, on which, we so firmly rely, that we give the whole weight to the former, when they contradict the latter. All are agreed, that the mind and will of God, may be intelligibly expressed in words. Yet no one will deny, that they may be written in much deeper and more legible characters, in the sensible pleasures and pains, which he may bestow, or inflict on us. Therefore, the evidence of God's love of virtue, and hatred of vice, must ultimately be derived from the treatment which he gives his creatures. In this, we ultimately, and most sensibly, discover his views of the characters of his creatures, and the estimation, in which he holds them: and in this, we most clearly discover the feelings of the divine mind toward virtue and vice." West. p. 19.
That the divine displeasure against sin, should be rendered manifest, is necessary, not only as purity of character in a magistrate, tends to promote the virtue and happiness of those,
over whom he presides; but likewise, because motives to obedience will, in that case, be much more distinct and powerful. While this displeasure is not shown, either by sufferings, inflicted on the offender, or by some other method, it is scarcely to be conceived, that the creatures of God, should not cease to view sin in its true light; and that they should not expect impunity, in case of apostacy. When it is once understood, under an earthly government, that repentance universally supersedes the execution of laws, the motives to obedience being enfeebled, crimes will be multiplied. But motives are as certainly employed in the divine government, as in those maintained among men. It seems, therefore, that the pardoning of sin, without some attendant act or event expressing the same thing, which is expressed in the divine law, would encourage disorder and vice through the empire of God. The subjects of his government would naturally, I should think necessarily, conclude, that his abhorrence of sin was less, than his threatenings had led them to imagine.
"Whatever may be the rules of pardoning mercy," says Mr. Hampton," it can hardly be supposed, that a wise and good lawgiver will exercise it, or mitigate the rigour of the law, especially in many instances, without showing at the same time, his regard to the reasonableness of the law and the equity of its sanctions; or, which is the same, to the demands of his law and justice: because otherwise his conduct would be an encouragement to disobedience, and of conse quence, his mercy, though a favor to a few, would be injus tice to the whole."
If God see fit to pardon sin on any conditions, we cannot reasonably suppose, that they will be such, as either to give a wrong impression concerning himself, or to propagate a spirit of disorder and rebellion. It is highly important, that God should be known through the universe, as a God hating sin, and that every apprehension of a different nature should be removed. God cannot deny himself, nor will he ever cease to exhibit, in his providence, that proportion, harmony, and divine beauty, which adorn his character.
It was said, in the last lecture, that those, who oppose the doctrine of our Saviour's atonement, must do it on this ground, that nothing of the kind was necessary.
It was remarked, in reply, that even if we were unable to discern any need of atonement, i. e. any obstacles to the exercise of mercy on terms of repentance merely, it would, by no means, follow, that such reasons did not exist in the view of that Being, who beholds the whole universe, with all its relations and connexions. But far from conceding the truth of what is here supposed, I proceeded to suggest a number of considerations, which, according to the best ideas, which we can form on the subject, present obstacles to the par. doning of sin, merely on condition of repentance.
I shall now apply more directly, to the government of God, some observations then made concerning civil governments, with a view further to show, that the propriety of pardoning sin on the sole condition of repentance, is far from being obvious.
Were offenders made happy on so easy terms, the obedient and disobedient would be treated alike. Whereas, the divine law declares, it shall go well with the righteous, and ill with the wicked; the event, as here supposed, is, that it will go well with both. For if the wicked, i. e. those, who have
sinned while in a state of probation, are made happy, they receive precisely what was promised to the righteous; nothing more than happiness, being promised to the latter. Now, if the matter were left here, would not an observing spectator of God's proceedings, on being told, that virtue is an object of divine approbation, and vice of the divine displeasure, immediately reply, "How does this appear? Two beings, we see, are put on their trial for happiness, on condition of obedience but he, who disobeys, receives the same treatment, as the other."
Or, suppose two beings in a state of trial disobey their Creator. The one repents, and is rewarded; the other does not repent, and is punished. In the latter case, i. e. when the impenitent is punished, the divine law and the divine proceedings express precisely the same thing, viz. hatred of sin. In the former case, the expressions of the two are completely opposite.
That the consideration of repentance does not legally justify this difference, will be evident, when we consider the necessary extent of divine requirements. These are nothing less, than unfailing moral rectitude. If it be suitable, that Deity should demand of his creatures conformity, in any instance, to that, which is morally right; such conformity, may, with propriety, be demanded in all instances. Indeed, there would be undeniable inconsistency, were not the demand universal. You cannot easily suppose any thing, more dishonorable to the supreme law giver, than that he should tolerate particular violations of law, on condition the remainder should be kept. If intelligent creatures conform to the law, it is no more than their duty: it cannot, of course, have the slighest influence, strictly speaking, in making amends for crimes. It is not the less true, that I violated the law yesterday, because I have kept it to day; nor is there, on that account, less demerit and turpitude in yesterday's offence. Penitence is only the feelings of an obedient heart, in view of its past delinquency. The only difference, therefore, between the repenting and unrepenting